People of all ages find November through January to be their loneliest time of year. “Social Isolation” is a buzz word often thought to be the same thing as loneliness. However, during and after the winter holidays the elderly may have reasons to feel lonely, even if they are aging-in-place at home with one or more family members, have in-home caregivers, or are part of a group that meets regularly, such as their church community.
Why the Holidays Are Even Harder for the Elderly
Focusing on their losses is common for seniors during the holidays. They may have lost a spouse or friends; some degree of their health, energy and mobility; their independence, their home and the ability to do many of the things that they traditionally associated with getting ready for and enjoying during the holidays. They’ve been used to doing things for others, and now they must depend on others more than they would like to. They are getting outside less, not exercising as much, and their family members may be too busy to spend much time with them.
Pressure to Enjoy the Holidays
It can be difficult to find ways to help our elderly loved ones feel noticed, loved and part of our holiday celebrations. Many of them were experiencing depression and loneliness even before the holidays started. Unless we expect and also plan for how to lessen post-holiday loneliness, elderly family members are likely to feel even worse, after whatever together times we were able to manage are over.
Start by lowering our expectations and theirs for what can be done this holiday season. Maintain as many of your family traditions as you can, while realizing that because of age, some are becoming unrealistic, and we will have to rethink them.
Try to put relationships first. If you can’t be together in person to visit, share family photos and videos, watch Christmas movies or listen to holiday music together, you can do many of those things virtually. Although seniors might need help using technology and apps to get together, all family members nowadays can be together at least part of the time.
When visiting with an elderly loved one either in person, via the phone or an app, here are some tips to make the conversation more uplifting:
- Actively listen, even if what they are saying is negative or you’ve heard it many times before.
- Listen for clues to what will lift their spirits.
- Tell them how important they are to you and your family.
- Thank them for what they have done for you during holidays past—creating family and religious traditions, cooking special recipes, giving gifts to you and your children, etc.
- Ask them to tell you things they remember and are grateful for at this time of year.
If you are fortunate enough to share the same home or are able to visit you loved one in their home, think of holiday things you could do together:
- Open holiday cards with them, reminiscing about friends who still keep in touch.
- Help them write and address cards or a newsy letter to friends and family members.
- Help them put out holiday decorations a little at a time, lengthening the fun and lessening fatigue.
- Think of ways they can still help with cooking traditional holiday food or other meaningful tasks.
- Help them to dress in festive clothes, fix their hair and feel good about the way they look.
- Make a list of things they could do on their own to help and lift themselves and others:
- Keep holiday music playing in the background, occasionally exercising to it.
- Watch the Hallmark Channel’s Christmas shows and movies on TV.
- Schedule a time each day to either call or write to someone else who is also lonely.
- Keep a gratitude journal; read it when they are feeling down to help them focus on the things they really value and less on what they lack.
Ways to Ease After-the-Holiday Loneliness
Probably all of us have felt the letdown of going from being from very busy with holiday preparations and activities to having little or nothing on the calendar. For the elderly, there’s also an adjustment to having less stimulation in their days. They may feel like they have gone from being the center of attention to barely noticed or thought of. They might feel sad that another year has passed and fear that things will go downhill for them in the coming days. It can help to keep their spirits up and feelings of loneliness down, if we plan some things we can do for and with them to ease the transition back to everyday life.
Adding warmth and light to the dark and cold month of January might be as easy as:
- Keep more lights on or have their favorite chair face a window.
- Ensure that they have warm and healthy meals to eat that are mostly prepared by others.
- Give them opportunities to get outside, move around, and go for either a drive or a short walk.
- Remind them to keep up the practice of calling or writing to someone else once a day.
- Help them to set realistic goals of things they could do every day:
- Spend at least 15 minutes exercising.
- Read a good book or watch a good TV show.
- Keep writing in and reading a gratitude journal.
- Make a scrapbook with cards, photos and memories from the holidays just passed.
- Stay active with a purpose such as decluttering or sorting possessions.
Let your loved one know that while it may be uncomfortable to feel lonely, it’s also okay to feel this way. Be a good listener and encourage them to express rather than ignore their feelings. Help them to focus on the future and the people and things that are really important to them now.
If you are feeling overwhelmed by all that needs to be done for and with your loved one during and after the holidays, Dakota Home Care is here to help. Contact us any time for help with whatever challenges you’re facing. We are here for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Simply complete the form here or call us at (877) 691‑0015 to schedule a free consultation and learn how we can help with personal care, housekeeping, meal preparation, transportation, or friendly companionship. We also provide a range of medical services that allow your loved one to remain at home.
Happy Holidays everyone from your friends at Dakota Home Care!